Ray Kurzweil was in town this week to attend the premiere of a biographic documentary: "Transcendant Man". I attended the showing at the IMAX cinema in the Science Museum, graciously financed by Google UK. Barry Ptolemy's film was insightful, presenting a more complex overlay of Kurzweil's drives with an ambiguous tension between spiritual motivations and rational explanations. The film revealed this ambiguity but did not pierce the veil.
To follow up, Humanity + organised a talk at Birkbeck yesterday. A panel of five speakers spoke on the film, their views of Kurzweil, whether inspirational or sceptical, and wider issues of transhumanism. It was revealing how some moved from support for Kurzweil's certainty to doubts when asked to pin down their own predictions. Subscribers to the meme, sceptical as individuals.
One question did come to mind for me. How did this cornucopia of change interact with the existing demographic forecasts of population growth in the developing world and population decline in the advanced industrial countries. For such an interaction leads to a question of religious growth.....
The countries that are in decline mostly subscribe to a secular civilisation, becoming more vigorous as its population dies back. The more populous a country is in the twenty-first century; the more probable that the vast majority of its population will be people of faith.
With this trend, we see scenarios of transhumanist technology interacting with people of faith. A story of 'religion versus science' is not a suitable model. Competition within and between nations will drive this landscape: look for some odd spirituality ahead. And if health extension does come into play:
If our early steps in understanding longevity, lifespan, and aging develop and proliferate in a way analogous to the advances we have seen in biotechnology, aeronautics, DNA, computers, and communications, precipitous declines in mortality could be on the horizon. If so, then today's demographic projections may constitute serious underestimates of earth's future populations and may lull us into an exceedingly dangerous state of complacency and inaction. We should appreciate, therefore, that dramatic or unexpected declines in mortality may be capable of cancelling-out anticipated gains that we otherwise expect based on declining fertility.
Further examination and speculation on these questions is worthwhile. Perhaps Kurzweil's spiritual discourse will prove more advantageous in the battle of ideas than all of our debates.